Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria
of the genus
. Most people who become ill with
campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and
fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. The
diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and
vomiting. The illness typically lasts one week. Some persons who
are infected with
don't have any symptoms at
all. In persons with compromised immune systems,
occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and
causes a serious life-threatening infection.
How common is
is the most common bacterial cause of
diarrheal illness in the United States. Virtually all cases occur
as isolated, sporadic events, not as a part of large outbreaks.
Campylobacteriosis occurs much more frequently in the summer months
than in the winter. The organism is isolated from infants and young
adults more frequently than from other age groups and from males
more frequently than females. Although
commonly cause death, it has been estimated that 500 persons with
infections may die each year.
What sort of germ is
organism is actually a group of
spiral-shaped bacteria that can cause disease in humans and
animals. Most human illness is caused by one species, called
, but 1% of human Campylobacter cases
are caused by other species.
at the body temperature of a bird, and seems to be well adapted to
birds, who carry it without becoming ill. The bacterium is fragile.
It cannot tolerate drying and can be killed by oxygen. It grows
only if there is less than the atmospheric amount of oxygen
present. Freezing reduces the number of
bacteria present on raw meat.
How is the infection diagnosed?
Many different kinds of infections can cause diarrhea and bloody
diarrhea. Doctors can look for bacterial causes of diarrhea by
asking a laboratory to culture a sample of stool from an ill
person. Diagnosis of
laboratory culture procedures, which doctors may need to
How can campylobacteriosis be treated?
Virtually all persons infected with
recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink
plenty of fluids as long as the diarrhea lasts. In more severe
cases, antibiotics such as erythromycin or a fluoroquinolone can be
used, and can shorten the duration of symptoms if they are given
early in the illness. Your doctor will make the decision about
whether antibiotics are necessary.
Are there long-term consequences?
Most people who get campylobacteriosis recover completely within
two to five days, although sometimes recovery can take up to 10
days. Rarely, some long-term consequences can result from a
infection. Some people may have
following campylobacteriosis. Others may develop a
rare disease that affects the nerves of the body beginning several
weeks after the diarrheal illness. This disease, called
, occurs when a person's immune
system is "triggered" to attack the body's own nerves. It can lead
to paralysis that lasts several weeks and usually requires
intensive care. It is estimated that approximately one in every
1000 reported campylobacteriosis cases leads to Guillain-Barré
syndrome. As many as 40% of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases in
this country may be triggered by campylobacteriosis.
How do people get infected with this germ?
Campylobacteriosis usually occurs in single, sporadic cases, but
it can also occur in outbreaks, when a number of people become ill
at one time. Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with
handling raw poultry
eating raw or undercooked poultry
. A very small number of
(fewer than 500) can cause illness in humans. Even one drop of
juice from raw chicken meat can infect a person. One way to become
infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use
the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or
other raw or lightly cooked foods. The
organisms from the raw meat can then spread to the other foods.
The organism is not usually spread from person to person, but
this can happen if the infected person is a small child or is
producing a large volume of diarrhea. Larger outbreaks due to
are not usually associated with raw poultry
but are usually related to drinking unpasteurized milk or
contaminated water. Animals can also be infected, and some people
have acquired their infection from contact with the infected stool
of an ill dog or cat.
How does food or water get contaminated with
Many chicken flocks are silently infected with
; that is, the chickens are infected with the
organism but show no signs of illness.
easily spread from bird to bird through a common water source or
through contact with infected feces. When an infected bird is
can be transferred from the
intestines to the meat. More than half of the raw chicken in the
United States market has
is also present in the giblets, especially the
liver. Unpasteurized milk can become contaminated if the cow has an
in her udder or the milk is
contaminated with manure. Surface water and mountain streams can
become contaminated from infected feces from cows or wild birds.
This infection is common in the developing world, and travelers to
foreign countries are also at risk for becoming infected with
What can be done to prevent the infection?
There are some simple food handling practices for preventing
infections. Physicians who diagnose
campylobacteriosis and clinical laboratories that identify this
organism should report their findings to the local health
department. If many cases occur at the same time, it may mean that
many people were exposed to a common contaminated food item or
water source which might still be available to infect more people.
When outbreaks occur, community education efforts can be directed
at proper food handling techniques, especially thorough cooking of
all poultry and other foods of animal origin, and common sense
kitchen hygiene practices. Some data suggest that
can spread through a chicken flock in their
drinking water. Providing clean, chlorinated water sources for the
chickens might prevent
infections in poultry
flocks and thereby decrease the amount of contaminated meat
reaching the market place.
Tips for preventing campylobacteriosis
Cook all poultry products thoroughly. Make sure that the meat
is cooked throughout (no longer pink), any juices run clear, and
the inside is cooked to 170oF (77oC) for breast meat, and 180oF
(82oC) for thigh meat.
If you are served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it
back for further cooking.
Wash hands with soap
handling raw foods of animal
Wash hands with soap
handling raw foods of animal
origin and before touching anything else.
Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen:
Use separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin and
Carefully clean all cutting boards, countertops and utensils
with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal
Avoid consuming unpasteurized milk and untreated surface
Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash
their hands carefully and frequently with soap to reduce the risk
of spreading the infection.
Wash hands with soap after having contact with pet feces.
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, April 2000
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a